Why We Like FirstEnergy Corp.’s (NYSE:FE) 6.0% Return On Capital Employed

Today we’ll look at FirstEnergy Corp. (NYSE:FE) and reflect on its potential as an investment. In particular, we’ll consider its Return On Capital Employed (ROCE), as that can give us insight into how profitably the company is able to employ capital in its business.

Firstly, we’ll go over how we calculate ROCE. Then we’ll compare its ROCE to similar companies. Last but not least, we’ll look at what impact its current liabilities have on its ROCE.

What is Return On Capital Employed (ROCE)?

ROCE is a metric for evaluating how much pre-tax income (in percentage terms) a company earns on the capital invested in its business. All else being equal, a better business will have a higher ROCE. In brief, it is a useful tool, but it is not without drawbacks. Author Edwin Whiting says to be careful when comparing the ROCE of different businesses, since ‘No two businesses are exactly alike.

So, How Do We Calculate ROCE?

The formula for calculating the return on capital employed is:

Return on Capital Employed = Earnings Before Interest and Tax (EBIT) ÷ (Total Assets – Current Liabilities)

Or for FirstEnergy:

0.06 = US$2.2b ÷ (US$42b – US$4.2b) (Based on the trailing twelve months to September 2019.)

Therefore, FirstEnergy has an ROCE of 6.0%.

See our latest analysis for FirstEnergy

Is FirstEnergy’s ROCE Good?

When making comparisons between similar businesses, investors may find ROCE useful. FirstEnergy’s ROCE appears to be substantially greater than the 4.6% average in the Electric Utilities industry. We consider this a positive sign, because it suggests it uses capital more efficiently than similar companies. Setting aside the industry comparison for now, FirstEnergy’s ROCE is mediocre in absolute terms, considering the risk of investing in stocks versus the safety of a bank account. It is possible that there are more rewarding investments out there.

The image below shows how FirstEnergy’s ROCE compares to its industry, and you can click it to see more detail on its past growth.

NYSE:FE Past Revenue and Net Income, February 8th 2020
NYSE:FE Past Revenue and Net Income, February 8th 2020

It is important to remember that ROCE shows past performance, and is not necessarily predictive. Companies in cyclical industries can be difficult to understand using ROCE, as returns typically look high during boom times, and low during busts. ROCE is, after all, simply a snap shot of a single year. Since the future is so important for investors, you should check out our free report on analyst forecasts for FirstEnergy.

Do FirstEnergy’s Current Liabilities Skew Its ROCE?

Liabilities, such as supplier bills and bank overdrafts, are referred to as current liabilities if they need to be paid within 12 months. The ROCE equation subtracts current liabilities from capital employed, so a company with a lot of current liabilities appears to have less capital employed, and a higher ROCE than otherwise. To check the impact of this, we calculate if a company has high current liabilities relative to its total assets.

FirstEnergy has total assets of US$42b and current liabilities of US$4.2b. Therefore its current liabilities are equivalent to approximately 10% of its total assets. It is good to see a restrained amount of current liabilities, as this limits the effect on ROCE.

What We Can Learn From FirstEnergy’s ROCE

With that in mind, we’re not overly impressed with FirstEnergy’s ROCE, so it may not be the most appealing prospect. Of course, you might also be able to find a better stock than FirstEnergy. So you may wish to see this free collection of other companies that have grown earnings strongly.

If you are like me, then you will not want to miss this free list of growing companies that insiders are buying.

If you spot an error that warrants correction, please contact the editor at editorial-team@simplywallst.com. This article by Simply Wall St is general in nature. It does not constitute a recommendation to buy or sell any stock, and does not take account of your objectives, or your financial situation. Simply Wall St has no position in the stocks mentioned.

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